US Statement Further Queers the Kashmir Pitch for India
UNGA to be a tough session
Former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran in an impassioned appraisal of the diplomatic impact of the developments in Kashmir warned just a few days ago that the longer the clampdown continued the more difficult will it become for India to handle the international fall out. The experienced diplomat was spot on, as no sooner had the first month of relentless curfew in Kashmir passed that the United States State Department came out with a strong statement expressing concern about the “widespread detentions” and the blocked internet and mobile phone access, and calling for immediate dialogue and elections in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Saran, speaking at a meeting called by the Centre for Policy Research this week said, “So far we cannot claim that the situation is normal. The longer it takes the more difficult it will be to handle the fall out.”
It is no secret that diplomatically New Delhi has been working hard to contain the United States on this issue. Former diplomat MK Bhadrakumar in a recent article spoke of India-Russia ties being impacted as a result, with New Delhi keeping one eye fixed on Washington even as it negotiated agreements with Moscow.
US President Donald Trump kicked the Kashmir ball right at the beginning with an offer to mediate. He said so with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan sitting beside him. He modified it later, after meeting PM Narendra Modi, saying he had been assured by the latter that he was in control, and that he was hopeful that would indeed be the case. However, when asked at the same briefing whether he would mediate he said “I am here”, an indication that the developments in Kashmir would continue to be monitored by the US.
The international media---including all the biggies like the New York Times, Washington Post et al---has been scathing in its criticism of India’s handling of Kashmir. The United Nations along with global capitals has joined what has literally become a din of criticism on Kashmir, warning against the violation of human rights. All world capitals have recognised it in renewed statements as a bilateral (and not unilateral) issue for India and Pakistan to discuss, with French President Emanuel Macron maintaining publicly that human rights in Kashmir was a big issue for his government.
The US State Department statement released by spokesperson Morgan Ortagus has now called for elections in Jammu and Kashmir. “We continue to be very concerned by widespread detentions, including of local political and business leaders, and the restrictions on the residents of the region. We are also concerned about reports that internet and mobile phone access continues to be blocked in certain regions,” she said.
“We urge authorities to respect human rights and restore access to services such as the internet and mobile networks. We look forward to the Indian government’s resumption of political engagement with local leaders and the scheduling of promised elections at the earliest opportunity.”
Trump has at no stage even pretended that he is not involved in Kashmir since security forces were moved into the bifurcated state a month ago.
On August 26, Trump said “We spoke last night about Kashmir. The prime minister really feels he has it under control…I know they speak with Pakistan, and I’m sure that they will be able to do something that will be very good. We spoke about it last night at great length.” Inherent in this statement were two important facts: one that Trump was concerned enough about the developments in Kashmir to speak about it to PM Modi at “great length” as a third party; and two, that Modi feels he has the situation under control, and he for his own part hopes “something good” will emerge from the talks with Pakistan.
The US Statement Department statement seems to have gone back to the earlier status of Kashmir by calling for elections; and a dialogue with all political leaders in the state. There is no word about abrogation of Articles 35A and 370 and the bifurcation of the state into the Union Territories of Ladakh, and Jammu and Kashmir. But by calling for dialogue and elections, clearly the US is hinting its support for the earlier status of the state.
September is a crucial month for India, with the United Nations General Assembly expected to place Kashmir very much on the front burner. Large scale protests are being planned by human rights groups as per the social media in New York to coincide with the session. Pakistan PM Imran Khan has already announced a diplomatic blitz around the session. The international perception of India as a diverse, vibrant democracy is being coloured by the developments in Kashmir with the powerful global media covering it in minute detail with questions now being raised in editorials and comments about India as a functioning democracy.
The US statement that New Delhi had been working hard against has further queered the pitch in the run up to perhaps one of the most difficult UNGA sessions that India will face. PM Modi is also expected to address the General Assembly, although final dates are yet to be decided.
Cover Photograph BASIT ZARGAR: Deserted Fruit Mandi in Kashmir.